|Lester George, second from left, works with the team at Independence Golf Course.|
Playability, Environmental Sustainability and Pace of Play All Factors in Lester George's Redesign
(Release) - Opened in 2001, Independence Golf Club is a daily-fee golf course that had been in need of significant design upgrades, turf refurbishment and operational optimization. “We are redesigning of all of the bunkers, re-grassing all 18 fairways and converting the greens to Champion Bermuda Grass – but this project is more than just whitening the sand in the bunkers and making the grass greener,” says new owner Gif Breed of Richmond-based sports marketing firm Pros, Inc.
Internationally renowned golf course architect, Lester George, is implementing improvements that will have a positive impact on the entire community in surrounding areas. Breed had very specific thoughts about what he wanted for the property. Pace of play was a big issue for Independence, as was maintenance efficiency. Another important topic in the game of golf right now, one that is heavily supported by the USGA, is environmental sustainability.
Lester George took all of these ideas and needs into account for the renovation. George designed a course that repurposed the maintenance budget to make it more efficient and use funds for better turf maintenance practices. Another result of his design will be a much more user-friendly course that will be an enjoyable experience for both low-handicap players and high-handicap ones. “We threw a lot of balls into the air for Lester to juggle, and he accomplished all of our goals,” Breed continued. “The golf course has been improved in many ways.”
One of the conundrums owners and managers of golf courses often find is that they don’t see how they can make alterations to their courses that accomplish what seem to be conflicting goals – improving play for more experienced players while also catering to beginners who are just learning the game. They are often overwhelmed with the idea of making these alterations, along with meeting the individual needs of the course and community. The paramount goal of the renovation at Independence is to create a golf course that golfers of all skill levels will enjoy.
“When renovating a golf course, you have to find that delicate balance between paying homage to the existing look and feel of the course and creating a course that meets the needs of the players,” says Lester George. “It takes a significant amount of planning and design to take everyone’s needs into account, both from a strategy standpoint and from an aesthetic one. It is a daunting task, but it is never impossible.”
George continued, “At Independence, we removed more than 500 trees and bushes that were cluttering the golf course and obstructing views. We really opened up the course to make it more visually appealing, and we also removed or redesigned dozens of bunkers to make the course more strategically viable for a wide variety of players.”
“We are excited about this project, and like the way it is looking,” says Dana Grode, Regional Manager with Landscapes Unlimited, the Nebraska-based golf course construction contractor. “Golf courses are always looking for ways to remain current and viable. There was a great emphasis on sustainability and the environment, and the modifications made to the bunkers will make a significant difference in the maintenance of the course.”
Dan Taylor, Superintendent at Independence Golf Course, says, “This golf course is magnificent. We have accomplished all we set out to do. I have not heard a bad word from anyone about the changes we’re making. We’ve really opened up the course. It has been a great team effort. Giff is out here every day, and Lester is onsite very often. We’re lucky to have an involved owner and a hands-on architect. It’s very helpful to have Lester here when we need him.”
There are spectacular vistas throughout the property and some areas are designed for a variety of uses. The bunkers on the driving range, for instance, have been filled in order for that area to be used for concerts, fireworks, soccer – and even frisbee golf. There is a new turfed lawn area off of the patio that doubles as a croquet course and will be used for weddings, social events and other outdoor activities. There will also be significant improvements to the clubhouse to offer more options for dining and entertaining. “Independence will be offering many activity options to the community on top of our new and improved, user-friendly golf course,” said Breed.
“While the current clubhouse is a wonderful structure, it was not designed for events or large-scale entertaining,” said Breed. Changes to the building will create a banquet facility allowing for a wedding with more than 200 guests, a bar offering brick-oven pizza, and a brand new restaurant to serve the surrounding area. Breed continued, “We have partnered with an excellent restaurateur to create the restaurant at Independence. A high-quality eatery is needed in this area, and we look forward to meeting our neighbors and serving them at Independence.”
“We have quite the jigsaw puzzle for this project,” said Breed. “Lester brought it in UNDER budget. That’s just crazy. Lester is a wonderfully rare ‘under-promise, over-deliver’ architect. Maybe it is his military background that keeps him so on course, but Lester created a schedule, and he’s sticking to it! We know what’s going to happen just about every day during the process,” Breed continued.
“The weather has cooperated with us, which has kept us on schedule. With only six weeks allocated for the shaping and grassing, it was nice to have Lester here on a regular basis to keep the pace moving smoothly,” said Brian Walker of Riverside Turf, the grassing contractor.
“It looks like we have redone the entire course in six weeks,” said Landscapes Unlimited Project Manager Roberto San Juan. “The changes to the bunkers and grassing are a major improvement. I’ve really enjoyed doing this project; it feels like home here.”
“Watching this renovation in action is like Christmas every day! There is always something new and exciting to see as we watch this unfold. We couldn’t be happier,” said owner Giff Breed.
Independence Golf Course is scheduled to re-open on September 15.